A new chapter: 31pc of e-books sold on Amazon are self-published

21 Jul 2014

A new data set produced by Author Earnings revealed that self-published authors now account for 31pc of total daily e-book sales on Amazon. Some 40pc of all earnings are going to indie authors.

This makes indie authors, as a cohort, the largest publisher of e-books on Amazon.com in terms of market share.

The study has found that the big five publishers are struggling, with shelf-space for big five books falling by 4pc.

Big five publishers now account for only 16pc of e-books on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

Author Earnings says that while indie publishers have seen positive movement across the past three quarters it could be due to the fact that indies promote their books all year round, while major publishers pull out the stops around Christmas.

The research also shows that self-published authors earn more in royalties than big five authors combined. But this may change following the traditionally lucrative Christmas sales season.

But it stresses there is a real trend emerging and one that may put authors working for traditional firms at odds with their publishers.

Self-published authors are now earning nearly 40pc of all e-book royalties on the Kindle store.

“The days of looking at self-publishing as a last option are long gone. A lot has changed in six months,” the report’s authors said.

DRM slows down e-book sales

While the film, music, video game and book industries all employ digital rights management (DRM) technologies, with e-books DRM poses little challenge to pirates, who can crack these locks with a few clicks.

Meanwhile, for the paying customer, DRM makes it difficult to move e-books between devices and traps readers into a single retail channel.

By contrast DRM is entirely optional on Amazon for major publishers and self-published authors.

Author Earnings has found that indie titles sell twice as many copies each, on average, as those with DRM.

“It wasn’t surprising to see that most Big 5 books employ DRM, but we were shocked to see that it is practically 100pc of them. Indies, on the other hand, locked down roughly 50pc of their titles.

“Since there isn’t any variation in the Big 5 books, we are forced to look at the self-published titles for any effect on sales, and indeed there is one. The 50pc of non-DRM e-books account for 64pc of total unit sales.”

The data suggests DRM harms e-book sales at any price point and backs up a decision by publisher Tor to give up DRM two years ago.

A new chapter for publishing

“It’s too early to distinguish between global trends and seasonal trends, but the percentage of e-book dollars going to indie authors has crept up for two straight quarters,” Author Earnings said.

“There could be movement in the opposite direction as the holidays approach. While it should be a jolt to see that indies are earning nearly 40pc of the e-book dollars going to authors, we are starting to take this reality for granted. That’s real progress.

“As it has proven to be in other fields of entertainment, the indie movement in literature is not a blip and not a gold rush. It appears to be here to stay.

“We have also seen from this data set that DRM has a deleterious effect on e-book sales, which matches what other entertainment industries have learned. And we have seen that self-publishing is not just for a handful of genres; it dominates those genres and represents a significant share of all e-book sales.”

E-book image via Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years